CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was part of a team of outside, loyal confidants to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D., that contributed to a culture allowing the governor's "sexually harassing conduct" to "flourish," a scathing state investigation revealed Tuesday.
Cuomo was one of several unpaid, trusted outside figures consulted by Gov. Cuomo and his Executive Chamber staff to grapple with the numerous sexual harassment allegations against him this year. He drafted a response for his brother to the allegations against him on Feb. 28, according to the report.
The report from New York Attorney General Letitia James, D., found CNN's Cuomo and others were "regularly provided with confidential and often privileged information about state operations and helped make decisions that impacted State business and employees—all without any formal role, duty, or obligation to the State. "
"The common thread among all of these individuals was a proven, personal loyalty to the Governor," the report stated. "Their inclusion in the deliberations and the significant role they had in decision making reflect how loyalty and personal ties were valued as much, if not more, than any official function or role in State government. And because they did not have any formal position within the Executive Chamber, they could not reasonably have been relied upon to protect its interests as an institution or the interest of its current and former employees (including some who were complainants or witnesses), especially if those interests did not align with the Governor’s personal interests.
"A result of this dynamic is that State employees who are not part of this inner circle of loyalists would rightfully believe—and did believe—that any complaint or allegation about the Governor would be handled by people whose overriding interest is in protecting the Governor, over the interests of any potential complainant, any witness with relevant information that might be damaging to the Governor, or any supervisor whose obligation it was to report allegations of misconduct by the Governor."
The report concluded "the reliance on loyal confidants regardless of their official role in State government" was one of several key factors in creating an environment "where the Governor’s sexually harassing conduct was allowed to flourish and persist."
"Whether driven by fear or blinded by loyalty, the senior staff of the Executive Chamber (and the Governor’s select group of outside confidants) looked to protect the Governor and found ways not to believe or credit those who stepped forward to make or support allegations against him," the report found.
CNN did not respond to a request for comment.
The email in the report showing Chris Cuomo offering a suggested statement to his brother to respond to the allegations came on Feb. 28, one day before he told CNN viewers that he "obviously" could not cover the harassment claims against his brother due to his conflict of interest. Those remarks drew sharp criticism at the time, given he had been allowed by the network to do jokey, friendly interviews with his brother during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chris Cuomo's suggested remarks included that his brother say he is sometimes "playful" and makes "jokes." They expressed contrition and embarrassment, as well. The younger Cuomo reportedly urged his brother to not step down earlier this year as calls from both sides of the aisle to resign mounted. That week, Gov. Cuomo said he was "embarrassed," but would not resign.
The younger Cuomo already admitted in May to advising his brother on the allegations, which James said Tuesday were credible and corroborated. Her report found that 11 women had been harassed by Gov. Cuomo through unwanted kissing, touching, and inappropriate language, and that he had presided over a toxic, intimidating workplace culture.
Chris Cuomo was not formally reprimanded by CNN for his conduct, which he called a "mistake" while defending himself for helping out a family member. Experts widely agreed that his decision to participate in crisis strategy sessions for his powerful brother gravely crossed ethical lines.
"Like you, I bet, my family means everything to me. And I am fiercely loyal to them. I'm family first, job second," Cuomo told his viewers. "But being a journalist and a brother to a politician is unique and a unique challenge and I have a unique responsibility to balance those roles. It's not always easy. People can say and write what they want, but I want you to know the truth. How I helped my brother also matters. When my brother's situation became turbulent, being looped into calls with other friends of his and advisers that did include some of his staff, I understand why that was a problem for CNN. It will not happen again."
Senior Andrew Cuomo adviser Rich Azzopardi told New York investigators that the outside advisers were "people who have been with us for a long time who we could trust" and "when you feel like you’re in battle you turn to those you trust."
Gov. Cuomo reiterated Tuesday that he would not resign as he once again faces pressure to step down.